Wednesday, May 30, 2007 

Southern (Sort Of) Lit: Robert Stone's Prime Green

Something about the Sixties has always both fascinated and bugged the hell out of me. While I've always been fascinated by the darker margins of the era -- the climate that led to assassinations and Hunter S. Thompson -- I've never had a whole lot of patience for the determined naivete of the hippie movement, which wrapped admirable goals and ambition in a gauzy, almost childlike haze from which modern liberalism has never really recovered.

Which is exactly what makes Robert Stone's memoir, Prime Green, such a maddening book. Stone was one of the few people present during several of the Sixties' highwater marks -- Ken Kesey, San Francisco, Vietnam -- with both the vision and ability to put his recollections into coherent form. Stone, the author of several outstanding novels including A Hall of Mirrors, had an astonishing opportunity here to put an authoritative stamp on a much-examined period of history...but rather than a home run, he ends up with, at best, a ground-rule double.

In the memoir, we follow Stone from his Korean-war era days in the Navy through an enviable progression across the world, from New Orleans to California to New York to Paris to Vietnam. We get some fascinating snippets, like the story of a cross-country bus trip that nearly turns tragic when some military men get a good look at the bearded, countercultural Stone, but ultimately this book comes up short in presenting anything of real depth. Stone's an exceptional writer but an essentially pessimistic one, and he misses the chance both to give in-depth perspective on an era and to dig into self-examination -- his own children get scant mention.

Bottom line: there are outstanding, timeless books about the Sixties -- HST's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Michael Herr's Dispatches, and Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test first among them. It's a shame Stone didn't make the pantheon.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007 

Southern Lit: Tim Dorsey's Hurricane Punch

Tim Dorsey's a writer you either get or you don't. He's slapstick combined with absolute on-the-ground realism, social commentary woven within satire so broad you can't even see the edges of it. And man, any time he's got a new book coming out, I'm right there.

His latest, Hurricane Punch, came out earlier this year, and I finally had a few minutes to finish it off last weekend. See, a Dorsey novel isn't something you can flip through while waiting in line at the bank or whatever. No, it requires a mindset, preferably with some Buffett on the radio and a cold beer at your side. This is literature as lifestyle.

Dorsey's specialty is Florida crime, in that genre that combines comedy and violence into a hybrid that nobody's seemed to come up with a good name for -- "black comedy" doesn't quite get it (and has some unfortunate connotations for anybody not particularly well-versed in literary theory), and "crimedy" sounds just stupid. Whatever -- it's crime, it's humor, and the two mesh perfectly.

With Dorsey, the destination's not nearly as important as the ride. He picks a theme -- the film industry, Florida politics, ecoterrorism -- and cuts his two creations, Serge and Coleman (sort of a more homicidal version of Earl and Randy Hickey, though created years before) loose to wreak intentional and unintentional havoc. Hurricane Punch's theme is in the title -- no, it's not punch -- and Dorsey does his best to batter his state with as many hurricanes as possible in a single season, wrapping them in a murder mystery, psychotherapy, kidnapping, and delusions of Hendrixdom. (You kinda have to read the book.)

With Serge, a serial killer with a conscience, Dorsey is in an enviable position for a writer. He's created a character who can literally become anything -- politician, actor, doctor, Mafia don -- and it'd not only be believable, it'd be conceivable. Serge's fascination with all things Florida gives Dorsey a limitless canvas on which to work. I'd imagine many of the bars mentioned by name in here have their own little paragraphs framed up and mounted on the wall. (Reminds me of the time I was in the Woody Creek Tavern in Aspen, famed stomping grounds of the late Hunter S. Thompson. Framed right next to the exit was a blank waiter's ticket on which Hunter had scrawled, "I promise never to throw smoke bombs in the bar again. HST.")

Dorsey's also got a kind of metafiction going on in his books, where certain of his characters act like their equivalent cliches -- the hardboiled Raymond Chandleresque detective, the hardbitten crew of roughneck marines, the naughty pair of gorgeous hitchhikers -- but it's done in a winking, knowing way. It's tough to explain, but it's clear that Dorsey knows he's playing with someone else's toys and having fun with their limitations, like a master chef cooking up Pop Tarts.

The Serge/Dorsey freight train could literally run another fifty years; in Florida, when they ran out of land, they built bridges over the water. I wouldn't mind seeing another departure from Florida; Serge has visited New York and Hollywood, but D.C., New Orleans, and -- God forbid -- Europe and Asia remain as yet untouched.

So Tim, if you're reading this, see what you can do about sneaking Serge and Coleman onto a Chinese oil tanker. They'd be a hell of a lot more fun to see in action than Jack Bauer.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007 

The Best Music Of 2006 (Yes, 2006.)

We're within spitting distance of Memorial Day and summertime, so hey -- why not a post recapping my favorite music of 2006? (Shut up -- I've been busy with Sports Gone South.) Anyway, we did this in 2004 and 2005, so here's the latest version:

Song of the Year: "Dani California," Red Hot Chili Peppers -- Yes, it sounds exactly like Tom Petty's "Mary Jane." So what -- the roaring chorus and the Hendrixian outro solo make this the best "Snow Peppers" (as my boy calls them) song since "Suck My Kiss."

CD of the Year: "Stadium Arcadium," Red Hot Chili Peppers -- Hey, a twofer! The Peppers' CD was overlong, yes, but man -- every single one of these songs sounded at once new and completely familiar, and I mean that in a good way. They tuned into something primal on this one...this is the Platonic ideal of a Chili Peppers record.


Late to the Party Award (for the song I discovered after the rest of the world): "Sugar, We're Going Down," Fall Out Boy -- Yes, I seriously jammed on Fall Out Boy this year. No, I'm not a fifteen-year-old girl. Yes, I'm very, very sorry. But the beats and the rhymes were so dope...

"Gravity's Gone," Drive-By Truckers: Subpar (for them) CD, but this all-timer of a song, which includes the best lyric of the year: "She woke up sunny-side down and I was still thinking I was too proud to flip her over."


"World Wide Suicide," Pearl Jam: You want an award for mid-career revival, you've got to look to Pearl Jam. After nearly a decade of meandering albums, they turned out a self-titled blast of rock that was a worthy companion to their early-90s high-water mark.


"Old Dan Tucker," Bruce Springsteen: The Boss got no end of grief for his decision to turn to a 15-piece folk band for his most recent CD, but man, if this song doesn't get you moving, you're an idiot. Sorry.


"When You Were Young," The Killers: Springsteen's self-styled heirs had a bit of trouble matching his verbal dexterity--what the hell does it mean to be "burning down the highway skyline on the back of a hurricane," anyway? But it was fun rock, even if it wasn't as great as the band seemed to think it was.


"White Unicorn," Wolfmother: ROOOOOOCK! These guys brought back Deep Purple/Zeppelin arena rock without irony, and damn, did it sound good. A bit like eating warmed-over pizza, but that's usually still pretty good.


"This Is How I Disappear," My Chemical Romance: Wow. For an emo band, these guys damn near tore heads off with this song.


"Idlewild Blue," Outkast: I don't know what the hell they were doing with that whole "Idlewild" project, but this funk/flapper mashup was one of the smoothest tunes of the year.


"The Man," Pete Yorn & the Dixie Chicks: Great slice of beautiful/creepy alt-country.


"I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor," Arctic Monkeys: These Brits sound so damn snotty you want to beat them on general principles, but they can write a hell of a tune.


"High School Never Ends," Bowling For Soup: See Fall Out Boy above. Again, I'm sorry. I can't help myself. It's my hair-metal roots. Big guitars get me every time.


"Rise," Eddie Van Halen: Like here. This was a soundtrack to a porn movie, for chrissakes, and I still dug it.

"Cosmopolitan," Nine Black Alps: Where the hell did this song come from? More snotty punk with chainsaw guitars, but damn good.


"Fragments," The Who: Kind of a legacy vote here for one of my favorite bands from high school. This is okay, I guess, but outside of the slick production, the cascading keyboard notes are straight outta 1973.


"James River Blues," Old Crow Medicine Show: Neo-Appalachian folk that name-checks some of my old haunts. Like Springsteen above, a little goes a long way...but that little works damn fine.


Okay, that's probably enough for now...there were some other notables, like U2's "Window To The Skies," Beck's "Nausea," Kasey Chambers' "The Rain," Vaux's "Are You With Me?", and Jimmy Buffett's "Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On," but this ought to serve. Please don't hate me.

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Monday, May 21, 2007 

Pimp My Portfolio: Esquire

Ever feel like buying a pro sports team? Your dream could be closer than you think...assuming, of course, you've got six figures or so of disposable income. (What, you don't?) Check out my article for Esquire by clicking here, and you too can learn how to become a lil' Steinbrenner.

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Flickadaweek: Casino Royale

I have kids. I have a writing career that pulls me in seventy-three different directions. As a result, I generally don't get to see many movies in the theater. So I'm pretty much seven months behind the rest of American society when it comes to the Movies You Must See. (Exception: I saw Spider-Man 3 the weekend it came out. When it's a summer movie, you gotta love the energy of a crowded theater. Any other time, you're tempted to test that limits-of-free-speech bit by lighting a fire in the sticky underseat goo.)

But anyway. I finally got around to seeing Casino Royale, the new Bond flick, and man, was it worth the wait. Hands down the best Bond flick ever, and probably one of the top five action movies ever. Bond-o-philes, that desperate crew of Dwight Schrutelike wannabe secret agents, wailed and moaned when relative unknown Daniel Craig was tapped to be the new Bond. Turned out to be a franchise-saving move. Pierce Brosnan brought a haunted, evil edge to Bond, far better than anybody since Connery, but Craig gives him the empty conscience of Tony Soprano, but with a stronger moral code.

The plot -- well, this is kind of like "Bond Begins," in that we see Bond before he's ever earned his "Double-0" status. He's tasked to bring down Le Chiffre, a French financier whose cataracted eye is the only nod to camp in this whole movie. In the course of the movie, you've got unbelievable chase scenes, both by car and on foot; the requisite (but still astonishing) hairsbreadth escapes, and an agonizing post-Abu Ghraib torture scene that will have you clutching your own double-0s.

Plus, the flick does what 24 has never seemed to figure out -- heightens the tension by breaking it now and then. Early in the movie, Bond and a nameless villain are fighting atop a crane. The villain empties his gun, then in classic '30s bad guy style, throws the gun. Bond catches the gun and fires it back, Roger Clemens-style, right at the bad guy's skull, nearly knocking the guy off the crane. Great stuff...and not a single Bond-gadget scene with Q.

Anyway, you see this, and it gives you hope for intelligent action movies. Highly recommended.

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Bio

Jay Busbee runs Yahoo! Sports' NASCAR Blog From The Marbles, Atlanta Magazine's Atlanta sports blog Right Down Peachtree, and the Southern sports/humor blog Sports Gone South. He also writes for damn near anybody who'll throw him a buck and a byline, and he's at work on the books The Quiet Dynasty: The History Of The Atlanta Braves' Championship Run (2009, Sports Publishing LLC) and God Is A Bulldog: Georgia, Florida, And The Greatest Play In College Football History (2010, Sports Publishing LLC). Click below for more info on his novels, articles, and comics.
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